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HAZLET -- One year ago, Raritan junior Braden Kmak accepted a challenge from his coach, Rob Nucci, and delivered the defining moment of Raritan's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship win over Rumson-Fair Haven.

On Wednesday against Point Pleasant Boro, Kmak -- now a senior -- again had to face a difficult task, but this time, it was to finish off a match his team had already set up for him to close out with some heavy lifting early on.

Heavyweight Tom Jeleniewski and 132-pound sophomore Alex Delaurier scored key major decisions and a wave of pins between 120 and 138 pounds set up Kmak to close out a 37-27 Raritan victory over Point Boro, giving the Rockets their second straight CJ II crown.

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

Last year, Kmak found himself trying to avoid giving up bonus points to Rumson standout Aiden Shaughnessy at 132 pounds and wound up coming back from a 10-4 deficit to pin Shaughnessy with one second left in the final period. Raritan took off from there and upended Rumson, 42-25, to win the sectional title.

On Wednesday, the senior knew he would be bumping up in weight from 144 to 150 to square off with Point Boro junior Ryan Acquisto, who entered Wednesday 26-4 overall for the season.

"I knew all week that this was going to be the match," Kmak said. "Coach was drilling in my head all week: 'We're bumping you up to 150. You're going to get their best guy.' So I put that in my head right away that (Nucci) trusts me in that situation -- he saw it last year, he has seen it this year -- so I was really amped up for that match."

Kmak -- who is now 29-4 on the season -- conceded an early takedown, but battled back to within 4-3 by the end of the period before using a second-period takedown and third-period ride-out to finish off a 6-5 win that officially put Point Boro away. Raritan forfeited the final three bouts and collected their second straight sectional championship trophy.

"I came out a little slow and got taken down," Kmak said. "Fortunately, I was able to settle in, I was able to refocus and get the job done.

"We know we're pretty special from around 120 to 150, so we know if we're ever in trouble, we can make it up there. To be the guy the was called on to end the match really helped me confidence-wise to get the job done."

Raritan stormed out to a 12-0 lead with a 23-8 technical fall at 190 pounds by senior Kieran Falzon, followed by a 3-1 decision by sophomore Riyan Bhutto at 215, then a major decision at 285 that Jeleniewski secured with a takedown in the final 30 seconds of the third period.

Bhutto battled Point Boro's Declan Pratt to a 1-1 stalemate through the opening seconds of the third period before Bhutto won a takedown in the final minute before holding on for three tossup points in Raritan's favor.

Jeleniewski controlled his bout against Point Boro's Nick Vitale at 285 and picked up a bonus point with his last-minute takedown. Jeleniewski was making his return to the lineup after missing the last three weeks due to a knee injury, according to Nucci.

"We started out at 190 and we were favored at 90, but 215 and heavy were kind of tosses," Nucci said. "Riyan wrestled his tail off and ends up getting a last-thirty-second takedown. Then our heavyweight, who has been hurt with a knee injury, wrestles his tail off for us and that really set us up."

The strong start set up the Rockets to play spoiler at 106 and 113, where Point Boro figured to have the advantage with freshman Mike DeAngelo and sophomore Frankie Burgio. First, Nick Sheldrick battled DeAngelo for six minutes, keeping him to a 4-1 decision.

Burgio got much closer to a major decision and nearly had Raritan's Aiden Davis on his back in the second period, but Davis held strong through the end of the period and kept Burgio to a 7-0 decision.

"We have been preaching all season and the last two seasons that in order to win big dual meets, you have to do your job," Nucci said. "Whether it's win bonus points or, more importantly, stay off your and don't give up bonus points. We didn't give up a single bonus point tonight and that's the difference."

Senior Matt Erven got Raritan back on track with a pin at 32 seconds in the 120-pound bout, followed by a pin by senior Ryan Mansueto in 1:41 at 132.

Delaurier then took the wind out of Point Boro by scoring eight points in the final period at 132 to finish off a 13-1 major decision.

Senior Zach Reilley poured it on at 138 by rolling up a pin in 38 seconds to push Raritan's lead to 34-6.

"It was huge to see guys step up at every weight," Kmak said. "We told everyone that everyone had their role, no matter what the matchups. If you're going to lose, lose small and if you are supposed to win, win big. That's what we did today: Nicky Sheldrick and Aiden Davis wrestled two studs and held them to a decision. Tommy coming back and getting a major in what we thought would be a tossup match was huge. Then we get sticks from 120, 126, 132, 138, so it was pretty huge to have everyone locked in on their role. That's how you win championships."

Senior Nate Fletcher stopped the Raritan streak by beating Rockets junior Logan Acevedo, 3-0, after the two wrestlers entered the third period with no score on either side.

All that led to Kmak's dagger, which he landed with his second-period turnaround.

Next up for Raritan is Governor Livingston in the Group II semifinals, as the Rockets looking to capture their second straight overall Group II title and third in program history.

"We believe in the work and we believe in our schedule," Nucci said. "We wrestled six teams in the (state) top 20 and we do that for a match like tonight. We're a little Group II school, but we'll bang with anybody. It's not how you do it in December and January. You put the time in during those practices and those tough matches to prepare you for February."

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